We've touched on the brain-gut connection and how gut health affects our overall wellbeing. This week we are looking further into the effects that an unbalanced gut can have on your health.
Your ‘gut microbiome’ is made up of the trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material that live in your intestinal tract. These microorganisms, mainly comprising bacteria, are involved in functions critical to your health and wellbeing. These bacteria live in your digestive system and they play a key role in digesting food you eat, and they help with absorbing and synthesising nutrients too. Gut bugs are involved in many other important processes that extend beyond your gut, including your metabolism, body weight, and immune regulation, as well as your brain functions and mood. There are many factors that influence the type and amount of bacteria we host
Let’s get into just why all these bacteria ensures the body runs smoothly.
Did you know there are more bacteria cells in your body than human cells? That’s trillions -roughly about 40 trillion vs. 30 trillion. Furthermore, upwards of one thousand species of bacteria live in the human gut microbiome, and they each have their part to play in your body. These microbes may weigh around 2-5 pounds altogether and function as an extra organ in your body, playing a massive role in your health.
How gut microbiome affects your body
Bacteria have been around for billions of years, and we humans have evolved to adapt to it, so much that we couldn’t survive without it. From the moment we are born, the gut microbiome begins to affect us. Your first exposure to microbes starts when you pass through your mother’s birth canal. However, research has shown that contact may even begin inside the womb.
As growth happens, your gut microbiome changes and begins to diversify, so many different types of microbial species emerge. The higher the microbiome diversity, the better for your health. The food you eat can dramatically affect your gut bacteria diversity. As your microbiome grows, here are some ways it affects your body:
- Digesting breast milk - Bifidobacteria, some of the bacteria that first begin to grow inside babies’ intestines, comes from mother’s breast milk. This bacteria is vital in digesting healthy sugars in breast milk essential for growth.
- Digesting Fiber - Short-chain fatty acids are produced when a certain bacteria digest fiber; this is important for gut health. Fiber has several benefits, such as prevention of diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, and decreases the risk of cancer.
- Controlling your immune system - Ever wonder why doctors prescribe probiotics (the good bacteria) after taking antibiotics? Lots of good bacteria help to replenish the bacteria you’ve lost, which boosts your immune system. The gut microbiome controls how your immune system works by communicating with immune cells and seeing how they react to infection.
- Control brain health - The central nervous system may also be affected by the gut microbiome, new research suggests.
An imbalance of unhealthy and healthy microbes, sometimes called gut dysbiosis, can contribute to weight gain. Some well-known studies have showcased that the gut microbiome differs completely between identical twins - one was obese while the other normal. This explains why differences in the microbiome are not genetic.
One study showed that when the microbiome from the obese twin was transferred to mice, they gained more weight than those that got the microbiome of the thin twin. This was despite both groups eating the same diet!
Have you considered supplementing your diet with probiotics?
A balanced diet, regular enjoyable exercise and the addition of a probiotic supplement like Meluka’s daily tonic can aid weight loss by regulating cravings
Intestinal diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), have shown to be affected by an unhealthy gut microbiome. The symptoms of IBS (bloating, cramps, and abdominal pain) may be due to gut dysbiosis, because the microbes produce a lot of gas and other chemicals, in turn causing symptoms of intestinal discomfort. Certain healthy bacteria, though, can improve gut health. Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, found in yogurt and probiotics, can help close gaps between intestinal cells, preventing leaky gut syndrome.
These certain species can also prevent disease-causing bacteria from sticking to the intestinal wall and reduce IBS symptoms.
The gut microbiome has the potential to affect heart health—this from a recent study done by PubMed Central. The study of 1,500 people found that the gut microbiome played a vital role in the promotion of “good” HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Conversely, some unhealthy species can contribute to heart disease. For example, TMAO is a chemical that causes blocked arteries, which could lead to strokes or heart attacks. Other bacteria within the microbiome convert choline and L-carnitine to TMAO. Both of these nutrients are found in red meat and other animal-based food sources, increasing risk factors for heart disease.
Control blood sugar
Interestingly, gut microbiomes may help control blood sugar, which could influence the risk of Type 1 and 2 diabetes. One study found that when people ate the same foods, their blood sugar varied greatly, which could be because of the types of bacteria in their guts. In a study of thirty-three infants examined who had a genetically high risk of developing type 1 diabetes, it found that the microbiome diversity dropped suddenly before the onset of type 1 diabetes. This was also offset by an increased number of unhealthy bacterial species before developing type 1 diabetes.